Educating students in the 21st century has necessitated a shift in the way in which preservice teachers are prepared to use, understand, and interact with social media in the classroom (McLoughlin & Lee, 2008). Bruns (2011) characterized this paradigmatic shift as a movement toward a participatory culture using Web 2.0 technologies—dynamic environments that are reshaping our educational landscape (Keen, 2008).
Teachers in today’s classroom are typically technology savvy and have integrated social networks into their daily lives (Windham, 2005). Additionally, with the emergence of mobile technologies, such as iPads and other devices, students’ access to computing devices is omnipresent (McLoughlin & Lee, 2010). These dynamic changes present both new types of challenges and vast opportunities for teachers.
The emergence of new media technologies, specifically social network sites (SNSs) and platforms such as the photoblog Humans of New York (HONY;), coupled with an increase in student-centered pedagogies, has brought the use of these technologies to the forefront as a mechanism to integrate medial and technology skills (Partnership for 21st Learning, 2016) and disciplinary content.
According to McLoughlin and Lee (2010), the use of online social networks enables people (e.g., students) to present their ideas and connect to others. Other researchers (e.g., Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, & Wiegel, 2006; Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008) see these social platforms as a mechanism to engage in meaningful conversations with others regardless of location. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that any type of technological disruption needs to have the appropriate pedagogical enhancements in order to be successful (e.g., Doering & Veletsianos, 2008; Hughes, Thomas, & Scharber, 2006; Mishra & Koehler, 2006; Veletsianos & Navarrete, 2012).
The mobility and access the iPad and other mobile devices provide opens up the classroom for new and innovative instructional practices, allowing students to physically explore their world and share these experiences with others (Squire & Klopfer, 2007). Mobile devices themselves are not enough to guarantee student engagement and learning, however, (Prieto, Villagrá-Sobrino, Jorrín-Abellán, Martínez-Monés, & Dimitriadis, 2011). Looi et al. (2011) found that placing technology in the hands of students was not enough to ensure student learning; teacher lesson design and their support during implementation were critical components needed in order to achieve the goal of student learning. These findings suggest that, in order for iPads and other mobile devices to reach their full potential, teachers need to develop engaging and active learning opportunities for students that purposefully integrate and orchestrate mobile devices into instruction.
The ways teachers choose to integrate iPads and other mobile devices into their classroom instruction impacts student learning. Sharples and Pea (2014) argued that mobile technology in the classroom should be conceptualized around the learner’s mobility, with seamless learning as a primary goal; that is, what were once conceived as distinct, independent learning experiences should be bound together to create a continuous learning environment. Looi et al. (2011) supported this idea when they described mobile devices as learning “hubs” that provide students and teachers the ability to learn on the move and across contexts. These unique capabilities of iPads and other mobile devices require that teachers become learning orchestrators and leave direct instruction behind.
Students are natural investigators. They are constantly asking why or exploring how something works. Educators should embrace this curiosity and use it to prepare students for the 21st century.
The social phenomenon HONY is a perfect example of using technology and social media to investigate human nature. Its photoblog platform can easily be modified to promote research and investigation in K–12 classrooms. This article uses the concept of HONY to introduce teachers and students to a new lesson for teaching the American Civil War.
HONY’s photographer and storyteller, Brandon, captures moments in people’s lives through their portraits and stories. In many ways he is an investigator, researching what it means to live in the 21st century. History educators are interested in helping students discover what it meant to live during the American Civil War. This article will draw on the technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge (TPACK) framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) and the replacement, amplification, and transformation (RAT) framework (Hughes et al., 2006) for using technology in the classroom and provide a lesson plan that uses the HONY concept to create a student-centered research project titled “Humans of the Civil War.”
The use of technology to engage students in more meaningful instruction has been well documented (e.g., Howland, Jonassen, & Marra, 2012; Martin & Ertzberger, 2013; Sadik, 2008), but specifically, if teachers make strategic decisions about the types of technology they use, student learning outcomes improve (e.g., Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Wu et al., 2012). The primary theoretical lens for this project was informed by Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) TPACK framework (See Figure 1) and Hughes et al.’s (2006) RAT framework.
TPACK suggests that teachers can synergistically call upon their knowledge in three domains—content, pedagogy, and technology. The framework builds upon the earlier work of Schulman’s (1986) pedagogical content knowledge, which describes how teachers must draw upon their knowledge of course content and pedagogical approaches. TPACK or technology integration knowledge is operationalized when educators identify an effective combination of curriculum content, a particular pedagogical approach, and a technology tool or resource that supports the learning experience.
TPACK provides the framework to organize teaching with technology, like iPads, allowing teachers to connect content and technology. Educators’ TPACK is internalized when they identify an effective combination of curriculum content, a particular pedagogical approach, and the integration of a technology tool or resource to support the learning experience.
We recommend that teachers follow the RAT framework (Figure 2; Hughes et al., 2006) when making decisions about what technology to use and how to use it. Teachers who use technology merely as a replacement for traditional methods of instruction are not changing “established practices, student learning processes, or content goals” (Hughes et al., 2006, p. 2).
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For example, teachers who use electronic presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint instead of writing notes on the board have not fundamentally changed the way they practice or deliver content. The second level of RAT, amplification, “increases efficiency and productivity” applies to this situation (Hughes et al., 2006, p. 2). Teachers operating at this level, however, still have not fundamentally changed their pedagogy nor how students learn.
One example of amplification is for students to turn in assignments electronically so that teachers may more easily and quickly return comments to students. There is a time and place for replacement and amplification; however, teachers who use technology to transform their lessons, the highest level of RAT, push students to think about and approach learning differently, including refining their epistemological and ontological beliefs. At this point, teachers use technology to change fundamentally how students learn and the content they are learning.
The five steps to achieve reorganization and transformation of classroom lessons are as follows:
- The actual mental work changed and expanded.
- The number of variables involved in the mental processes expanded.
- The tool changed the organization in which it has been used.
- New players became involved with the tool’s use (or expanded use of the tool).
- New opportunities for different forms and types of learning through problem-solving, unavailable in traditional approaches, are developed (Hughes et al., 2006, p. 2).
The next section describes a lesson, originally designed for middle grades U.S. history, but applicable to any level of social studies, that uses the HONY website () as inspiration for a transformed lesson on the American Civil War. By integrating content, technology, and popular culture platforms, teachers can engage their students in an inquiry-based lesson designed to promote upper-level thinking and questioning according to the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Armstrong, 2017; Krathwohl, 2002).
The following lesson plan integrates technology and role-playing activities (e.g., Beal, Bolick, & Martorella, 2008; Di Blas, Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2012; Robin, 2008) to simulate a version of HONY that can be used to promote student research and learning of the American Civil War. Students research historical figures from the American Civil War and use their knowledge to roleplay as if their historical figure is being interviewed for a classroom version of “Humans of the Civil War.” The purpose is for students to investigate what it meant to live during the time of the American Civil War in a way that is more engaging than traditional didactic, fact-based lectures.
This activity leverages technology and innovative pedagogies to engage students not only in learning content, but also in promoting inquiry, motivation, and participation (McCarthy & Anderson, 2000), thereby incorporating all components of the TPACK framework. Furthermore, this lesson plan moves students to the forefront, facilitating learning through an inquiry-based exercise that changes how students learn.
Table 1 outlines the connections among TPACK, RAT, and the lesson. To understand a person’s story, students situate the main events of their figure’s life within the context of the political and social upheaval of the 1860s. Schmidt calls this activity “putting the social back in social studies” (Schmidt, 2007, p. 4). By “re-establishing human beings as the central subject of social studies” through inquiry, “authentic experiences,” and “real-life tasks” (Schmidt, 2007, pp. 4–5), this Civil War learning activity may heighten students’ content knowledge and understanding of the era.
TPACK, RAT, and Humans of the Civil War Lesson Plan
|Lesson Phase||TPACK Connection||RAT Connection|
|Phase 1: Research||Students engage in investigating the content of the American Civil War using technology in a pedagogically appropriate manner. Students use the technology as a tool to support their research efforts. By researching individuals, students learn what life was like during the American Civil War.||Replacement: Sudents conduct research online using mobile devices.
Amplification: Students take notes using shared environments (i.e., Google Docs) to easily share information with their teacher.
Transformation: Students are engaged in inquiry-based learning instead of receiving information directly from the teacher.
|Phase 2: Interviews and Filming||Students role-play as investigators or journalists like Brandon from HONY to learn about the lives of others in the Civil War. The technology is used to capture information and assist students in their investigations.||Replacement: Students use mobile devices to access their notes when being interviewed by another student and to take notes when serving as their group’s note taker.
Amplification: Students’ notes are stored in easy-to-access digital folders that can be shared with group members and teachers.
Transformation: Students use mobile devices to record video and/or still images of the students they interview, which can be used as an alternative and more illustrative form of data collection.
|Phase 3: Digital Presentation and Debrief||Students collaborate as a whole to create a digital platform to display their knowledge. The debrief serves as both formative and summative assessments to showcase what students have learned.||Replacement: Students use the mobile device to access notes.
Amplification: Final portfolios, pictures, or videos can be easily shared with the teacher for assessment.
Transformation: Creating a digital storyboard, using tools such as Lino, Padlet, or even Google Slides, provides students with alternative and more expressive means of communicating what they have learned, as opposed to traditional pen and paper tests.
Students should become familiar with the HONY website () or Facebook page ( ) before starting this lesson. The website is filled with opportunities to present social studies content and context, including entire sections devoted to Iranian and Syrian refugees—subjects that can easily tie into content on immigration, human rights, geography, and foreign wars, to name a few.
The following is one lesson plan idea. Teachers may be able to incorporate this lesson using the HONY concept into their curriculum or use this lesson plan as a model for incorporating similar ideas into their classes.
Although this lesson focuses on researching historical individuals to understand a past event, the lesson can easily be modified to focus students on researching the lives of people who are still living in order to understand a historical event. For instance, students could research the Civil Rights movement by interviewing individuals who lived through the struggle, or they could research the impact of wars on home life by interviewing spouses of veterans or active military. However, if teachers are interested in having their students interview living subjects, they should review oral history resources for teachers at the Library of Congress () and LEARN NC ( ).
The lesson plan outlined in this article includes a basic timeline for each phase and is designed to be conducted between 5 and 7 days, depending on class size and time available.
Phase 1: Research
For Phase 1, students conduct background research on the American Civil War through the lens of one individual. They should begin this lesson with some background knowledge of the American Civil War, so it will be ideally situated toward the middle of the unit. Since the focus is on individuals, teachers can either assign students a person from the Civil War to research or allow students to pick from a list.
All ranks of the military, representing the Union and Confederate armies and navies, male and female civilians, and slaves should be included to provide students with multiple perspectives. See Handout 1 () for an example list of individuals from the Civil War. Students should also be encouraged to research individuals not on the handout and to pursue their own creativity and interests.
The resources section () includes a list of websites and apps that may prove useful during the research phase. This list is not exhaustive, but provides a starting point for student research.
See Handout 2 () for a list of questions students should be able to answer during Phase 2. At a minimum, Phase 1 should require at least 2 days for research, but ideally more if timing allows.
Phase 2: Interviews and Filming
After having researched their individual, students role-play and pretend that they are representing the group Humans of the Civil War to uncover the real story of how the war affected the lives of those involved. Students should divide into groups of three or four depending upon class size. Each student is assigned an initial job but should rotate through all of the positions.
The student roles are as follows: Videographer/photographer (using iPads or any mobile device), interviewer, interviewee (should answer all questions in character), and an optional note taker. The role of the videographer is to document the interview. Students should use their mobile devices to record or take photos that can then be compiled into a classroom set (see Phase 3). The interviewer asks the interviewee questions while the note taker listens and watches.
The note taker should listen for any questions that he or she still has about the individual following the interview so that the interviewer can ask follow-up questions. Additionally, the note taker should write a brief summary of the life of the person. Students should ask themselves: What caption accompanies the photo or video of this important individual? (The HONY website includes a caption or brief story that accompanies all photographs published.) If a note taker is not available, this responsibility should be completed by the interviewer.
Using the questions referenced in Handout 2 (), students build a profile of the Humans of the Civil War. Depending on class size and time allowed, Phase 2 could require 1 to 2 days to complete. The purpose of this phase is to engage students in their learning and to foster critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—the four C’s of 21st century learning (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2016).
Phase 3: Digital Presentation and Debrief
To showcase student work, teachers can help students create their Humans of the Civil War display. Including students in the creation of a display using Web 2.0 platforms, such as Lino Boards (; Lino Boards is a collaborative platform that students can use to express their ideas with images, videos, and documents and is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android.), is one way that students can showcase what they have learned and highlight their creativity. (See Figure 3 for an example. The first author created the Lino Board displayed here. All images were found via Google and were labeled for reuse.)
A digital presentation can also serve as a form of authentic assessment. (According to Wiggins, 1998, “An assessment is authentic when we anchor testing in the kind of work real people do, rather than merely eliciting easy-to-score responses to simple questions,” p. 21.) Video taken during Phase 2 can be uploaded to student sites or compiled together in Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides or other presentation software to create a montage.
Following student presentations, the teacher leads students in a discussion of the real lives of the individuals that the students researched. Sample questions include (a) What common themes were represented across all groups of individuals researched? and (b) What did it mean to live during the American Civil War? Teachers can continue to use technology to assess what students have learned. For instance, a collective Google Docs file could be utilized to create a study guide for an upcoming examination, or students can create a hypothetical letter to President Lincoln from the perspective of their individual or groups of individuals. For example, all students who researched civilians could get together and write a letter to President Lincoln about how the war was affecting their lives. This group could be further broken down to include women, men, and Black civilians or slaves.
Students should also be allowed an opportunity to debrief the learning process and activity (Beal et al., 2008). Teachers lead students through a conversation about the Humans of the Civil War activity and encourage them to reflect critically on the process. Sample questions include (a) What went well?, (b) What could have gone better?, and (c) If we do a similar activity again, what should our goals be? Debriefing allows students to provide valuable feedback to the instructor about what they learned, how the lesson was perceived, and improvements for future iterations. Additionally, allowing students to debrief increases their agency, investment in the class, and investment in their own education.
Lesson in Action
High school students and teachers in a professional development (PD) workshop for middle grades teachers used a version of this lesson plan to engage participants with inquiry-based learning using technology. The teachers divided into groups and traversed their school interviewing people they met to create a Humans of Caldwell Middle School (pseudonym). In the debrief following this activity, teachers were engaged and excited but also nervous about letting students loose around the school.
In our lesson plan, students stay in their classroom, under their teacher’s supervision, and can still become engaged and excited about learning content while using technology. High school students studying American history connected their own personal stories with those of the individuals from the Civil War and appreciated the element of autonomy of learning that the lesson provided.
These two examples showcase how the Humans of the Civil War lesson plan can be used in a variety of classroom contexts. Teachers should use their professional judgement to modify the lesson plan as appropriate for their students.
Conclusion and Implications for the Classroom
The primary affordances of tools like the iPad and platforms such as HONY may be their power to engage students in the use of technology tools that provide mechanisms and context to think through complex systems and ideas. The challenge, in moving forward, may be that teachers do not always see these devices and platforms as tools that can enhance their pedagogical strategies. The key will be to help those individuals, through specific PD and experiences, to recognize the power that these tools provide. Given the right supports and platforms, the iPad and other mobile devices can be utilized as a way for teachers to engage students in the use of primary resources and the study of history and other social studies topics. Though we have not yet found the best ways to bridge this integration gap, experiences like Humans of the Civil War will help us continue to refine the types of practices, integration, and lessons used in iPad and mobile device integrated classrooms.
The Humans of the Civil War activity exemplifies the five steps of a transformed lesson according to the RAT framework (Hughes et al., 2006). Following are the ways in which this lesson met all five steps:
The actual mental work changed and expanded. Students are responsible for conducting research, using both traditional research techniques (e.g., a library) and online resources, thus expanding what and how they are learning beyond a didactic lecture. The way teachers think about and approach the lesson also changed. Students were able to take ownership of their learning, which may result in increasing engagement and ultimately learning.
The number of variables involved in the mental process expanded. Students are introduced to websites, mobile devices, filming, photography, interviewing, and note taking. By integrating these tools, students not only develop technology skills but they apply these skills in authentic ways that may enhance their learning experience.
The tool changed the organization in which it has been used. By using mobile devices, websites, and digital presentations to engage students in learning about the individuals who lived during and participated in some way in the American Civil War, technology moved the lesson beyond traditional teacher-centered lectures followed by pen and paper tests toward a student-centered, inquiry-driven classroom.
New players became involved with the tool’s use (or expanded use of the tool). By making lessons more student centered, inquiry activity can allow the students to gain agency in their learning, likely increasing their engagement and ultimately their learning.
New opportunities for different forms and types of learning through problem-solving, unavailable in traditional approaches, developed. Through this transformed lesson, students engage in inquiry-based learning, critical thinking about historical information and sources, and the use of technology for digital presentations. These types of experiences give students the opportunity to engage in authentic learning that can carry over into other types of life experiences.
This sample lesson provides an opportunity for social studies teachers to integrate technology and social media platforms to achieve two important goals in a manner that is both pedagogically sound (TPACK; Mishra & Koehler, 2006) and grounded in content knowledge. First, through the integration of these platforms, teachers are able potentially to engage students in more meaningful instruction that goes beyond lectures and provides authenticity to the students’ experiences.
Second, as a result of these platforms, students can gain agency in their learning. In this particular lesson, students make strategic decisions about (a) what is important to know about historical figures, (b) how to best tell a person’s story, and (b) how to engage with content about the American Civil War. Teachers can use this lesson, the TPACK model (Mishra & Koehler, 2006), and the RAT framework (Hughes et al., 2006) to reconsider traditional methods of teaching social studies and to include technology in ways that engage students, transform learning, and increase motivation (e.g., Heafner, 2004).
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The Lincoln Telegrams Project provides students and teachers with access to 324 telegrams written by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War and are accessible via the project website or through the Apple iTunes app store.
The National Archives (www.archives.gov) and DocsTeach ()
DocsTeach is sponsored by the National Archives and provides teachers and students access to thousands of primary sources. The website includes ready-to-use activities utilizing the primary sources for teachers to use or modify for their own instructional purposes. Presently, the only mobile platform for DocsTeach is an app for iPads.
Gilder Lehrman (www.gilderlehrman.org)
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History also offers teachers and students excellent resources for researching the American Civil War. Similar to DocTeach, Gilder Lehrman divides American history into eras (Civil War and Reconstruction—1861–1877) and then sub-themes within each era (e.g., African Americans and Emancipation). The website offers access to both teachers and students; however, at this time no mobile platform is available.
The National Park Service ()
The National Park Service’s Civil War website is an excellent place for students to begin their research. The information is easily accessible and organized, including one section especially devoted to the people of the Civil War ().
Name of Interviewer:
Name of Interviewee:
The year 2015 marked the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the American Civil War. You have been charged by the founder of Humans of New York to go back in time and interview the men and women who lived during the Civil War. Your mission is to collect their stories and create your own digital storyboard using Lino boards. Through your interviews, we hope to gain an accurate picture of the Humans of the Civil War. Use the following interview questions as your guide.
- What is your full name?
- Where were you born?
- Are you married? If so, to whom?
- Where did you grow up?
- When do you currently live (between 1860 and 1865)?
- Do you have any children? If so, what are their names?
- Do you support the North or the South in this war? Why?
- How have you participated in the fighting? If so, on which side did you fight?
- Have you participated in the war effort? If so, how did you help?
- What has life been like for you during the Civil War?
- Who do you think should win the war and why?
- Who do you think will win the war and why?
- Tell me about a time in your life when you were the happiest.
- Tell me a time in your life when you were the saddest.
- What makes you mad?
- If you could change one thing about the war, what would it be?